Broward County

Dead 7-year-old boy didn’t have a parent

Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old Broward foster child, hanged himself in his shower in 2009.
Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old Broward foster child, hanged himself in his shower in 2009. ho

From the Miami Herald archives on May 15, 2009.

At age 7, Gabriel Myers had a psychiatrist to adjust his mental-health drugs, a therapist to help him cope with having been sexually abused, a caseworker who visited him once a month and a foster father who was becoming increasingly punitive.

What he didn't have was a parent.

During the first meeting of a Department of Children & Families task force created to fix problems that may have resulted in Gabriel's suicide last month, members wondered whether a parent was what Gabriel needed most -- someone who saw him as a little boy and not a combination of symptoms.

"There are all sorts of things that are happening around that child, but who's playing the parent role?" asked Dr. Rajiv Tandon, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida and a member of the work group.

"This is the state's child. As a parent, I would want to know what's going on. I would want to know what's happening with my child . . . I think somebody needs to think about Gabriel as a full person, but I'm not sure who was doing that."

In the last weeks of his life, Gabriel learned that his birth mother would be sent to jail in Ohio, he moved from two foster homes, he changed psychiatric medications, he switched therapists and he was punished with increasing severity, records show. He lost his action-figure toys. His foster father threatened to cut his hair.

Reacting to the claims of a foster care administrator that Gabriel's behavior at school and at home had dramatically worsened the last few weeks of his life, panelist Bill Janes, DCF's mental health chief, shot back: "Gabriel is not out of control. His environment is out of control."

"Gabriel is gone, " Janes added. "We've got to stop the next one."